Truth v. Myth: Illegal Immigrants must be stopped!

In light of the continuing legal concern with illegal immigration, most notably the anti-immigrant laws passed in Arizona in spring 2010, we’re re-posting a Truth v. Myth staple on immigration and why it is now so often illegal.

Most of us never stop to ask why illegal immigration is now so common, but never was before. Americans have always tried to stop certain types of immigrants—Irish, Chinese, Jewish, etc.—but you will not find battles over illegal immigrants (except when people from those banned groups somehow got into the country). There was no such issue, really, as “illegal immigration” throughout our long history of immigrants. So why is it such an issue today?

The single answer is that we now make it much harder to become a legal immigrant than we have ever done before. That’s it. It’s not that today’s immigrants are more criminal. It’s not that our own sainted immigrant ancestors were more law-abiding. It’s simply a matter of changing the law to make it harder to become a citizen, a process put in motion after WWII.

So here’s the original post, with a few new additions:

Myth: Immigration used to be good, but now it is bad.

Supporting myth:  Today immigrants are shiftless, lazy, and/or criminal, whereas they used to be hardworking people trying to make a better life for their children.

“Proof” of myth: Immigrants today don’t bother to learn English, want Spanish to be the official language of the U.S., refuse to become legal U.S. citizens, working here illegally instead, and constantly enter the U.S. illegally without even trying to become citizens because they want a free ride without paying taxes.

You know what I so often hear when Americans talk about immigration now?

1. They support anti-immigration laws.

2. Sure, their ancestors were immigrants, and they’re proud of that.

3. But their ancestors “followed the rules,” and therefore deserved to be here, while

4. Immigrants today have not followed the rules, and therefore do not deserve to be here.

This is a powerful myth. It seems to ring true. But do you know what the “rules” were for immigrants coming through Ellis Island for so many years? Look healthy and have your name listed on the register of the ship that brought you. That was it. “If the immigrant’s papers were in order and they were in reasonably good health, the Ellis Island inspection process would last approximately three to five hours. The inspections took place in the Registry Room (or Great Hall), where doctors would briefly scan every immigrant for obvious physical ailments. Doctors at Ellis Island soon became very adept at conducting these ‘six second physicals.’

When I visited the Ellis Island museum in 1991, I saw a film that said you also had to provide the address of a friend, sponsor, or family member who would take you in. And off you went.

So I don’t think we’re handing out prizes to past immigrants who followed those rules. They were pretty easy to follow. If that’s all we asked of Mexican immigrants today, we wouldn’t have illegal immigrants.

Immigrants today are faced with much more difficult rules. In other words, they actually face rules.

Go to Google and type in “requirements for U.S. citizenship.” I don’t know how many million pages come up. You petition for a Green Card—or rather, you have a family member already in the U.S. or a U.S. employer become your petitioner, and fill out the visa petition. Your employer-petitioner has to prove a labor certificate has been granted, that you have the education you need to do the job, that s/he can pay you, etc.

Then you’re on the waiting list—not to get a Green Card, but to apply for a Green Card.

One could go on and on. Basically, it’s much harder to get into the U.S. today and to become a citizen than it was when most white Americans’ ancestors came through.

The real problem with immigrants today is the same as it was in 1840: each generation of Americans hates and fears the new immigrants coming in. In the 1850s, the Irish were the scary foreigners destroying the nation. In the 1880s it was the Italians. Then the Chinese, then the Eastern Europeans, then the Jews, now the Mexicans.

Each generation looks back to earlier immigrants as “good,” and views current immigrants as bad. In the 1880s, the Irish were angry at the incoming Italians. In the 1900s, the Italians were banning the Chinese from coming in. As each immigrant group settles in, it tries to keep the next group out.

It’s really time we ended this cycle. Here are some quick pointers:

1. Latin American immigrants are not qualitatively different than previous European immigrants.

2. Spanish-speaking immigrants do NOT refuse to learn English; in fact, the children of Spanish-speaking immigrants are less likely to speak the old language than the children of other groups (that is, more children of Chinese immigrants speak Chinese than children of Mexican immigrants speak Spanish).

3. Your European immigrant ancestors honored nothing when they came to the U.S. but their desire to be here. They didn’t anxiously adhere to “the rules.” They did the bare, bare minimum that was asked of them, which was easy to do.

4. If we reverted to our earlier, extremely simple requirements for entering the country and becoming a citizen, we would not have illegal immigrants. If we choose not to go back to the earlier requirements, we have to explain why.

The usual explanation is that if we made it as simple now as it once was to enter this country and become a citizen, the U.S. would be “flooded” with “waves” of Latin Americans, poor and non-English-speaking, ruining the country. Which is exactly the argument that has always been made against immigrants, be they Irish, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, etc. Each group is going to destroy the country and American culture and society. It never seems to happen.

But it might happen now, with Latin American immigrants, not because they will destroy the country but because those in the U.S. who are so afraid of them will rip the country apart trying to keep them out. Taking the long view, I can say there’s hope that that won’t happen. But it will take a good fight to get all Americans to realize that the key to this nation’s success has always been the open-door policy.

Immigration will always be with us—thank goodness! The only informed position on the challenges it poses is a historically informed position.

8 thoughts on “Truth v. Myth: Illegal Immigrants must be stopped!

  1. I think if they was legal that would be fine,But I also think a lot of them are tied into the drug trade,which in it’s self is a problem that won;t be solved untill the movie stars,high paid sports people,Politicans go to jail the same as the poor kid next door.


    1. WOW WOW i still get so amazed sad and mad and i really feel sorry for the people who make these unfactual, ignorant stupid comments to say that you think alot of mexicans are tied into the drug trade, i know honestly YOU dont’ even believe that your just saying just because you have nothing smarter to say.


  2. I would like to know where you live along with the others in this country that seem to think illegal immigration is ok. Possibly, it is because you don’t live in the cities that they have taken over and destroyed like the one I have lived in for 44 years. Maybe you haven’t had to live with gang members in your neighborhood because the Mexican illegals love to be in gangs, and their parents love for them to be in them because of the money they bring home. You like so many of the people that think we should have an open door policy to immigration should have to actually live in the neighborhoods that the illegals live in. No, all of you illegal lovers live in the better neighborhoods and cities, so you don’t have a clue what these people do, live like or anything. Every country in the world controls their immigration, so why should the US citizens be forced to take in all the criminals and left overs from countries that cannot control their populations. You do not have the right to tell the citizens of this country that they should be forced to support all the illegals. If you want illegals here then I say get your check book out and sponsor familes yourself.


    1. Hello Char. The point of course is not to “love” illegal immigrants, but to understand why the U.S., for the first time in its history, has a problem with illegal immigration. The reason we do is that for the first time, we have made it very difficult for any immigrant to stay here permanently. If citizenship status were as easy to get as it was previously, (even the 25 years of residence in the U.S. it once required), we would not have a problem with some people turning to crime because they cannot work here legally.

      The immigrant has been the “source” of all our problems since the late 1600s, when people railed against the Germans ruining Pennsylvania. One hopes this tired prop for Nativism will soon be permanently retired.


    2. Actually its not all that true Char. I have no idea what you have gone trough but in my opinion not all immigrants and their children are like what you mention. I know what you are saying and yes my aunts family turn out to be like your description but in my family’s case its different. I want an education so bad an yes I am Mexican so what it doesn’t mean were all the same. As all writers do they speak from their opinions and I don’t think she was trying “to tell the citizens of this country that they should be forced to support all the illegals.” She was givin information and that doesn’t mean we will all agree with it.


  3. What’s never said in society today is that there are two types of prejudice. There’s a prejudice AGAINST-often just called being prejudiced/racist-and there is the other prejudice that is never mentioned, being prejudice FOR a group. Refusal to say anything negative is just as prejudiced as refusal to say anything correct. And, just because someone is making a negative comment does not mean that they are prejudiced AGAINST, in often just means that they don’t have a prejudice FOR the group-in this case immigrants. A rational-and honest- person simply weighs the negative and positive on a mental scale and goes with the “heavier” of the two. And any person with an ounce of personal integrity and honesty can see that there is far more negative about America’s current immigration crisis then positive. All the negative that the writer of this article leaves out.


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